Mendocino County Today: Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017
by AVA News Service, February 8, 2017
DON SCHMITT has died. Patriarch of the family that has done so much to revitalize Boonville, Don passed away in his Elk home surrounded by his family. His son, Johnny Schmitt, has made a success of the Boonville Hotel while creating a nexus of viable businesses across the street at the Farrer Building. Karen Bates, nee Schmitt, manages two thriving enterprises of her own, including Farmhouse Mercantile in the Farrer Building and, with her husband, Tim, the famed Bates Apple Farm at the foot of Greenwood Road, Don's wife, Sally, is celebrated as the culinary magician who founded the renowned French Laundry restaurant in Yountville. An amiable, courtly man, Don Schmitt's death is mourned by everyone who knew him.
CHP UPDATE (Wednesday morning 6:16): Highway 1, at the Garcia River, is now open.
LAST WEEK, the DA's office circulated a presser announcing the DA's opposition to parole for one of the killers of Larry Long, a locally famed Ukiah street person. As Ukiah Police Chief Chris Dewey's fond memories of Long suggest
the murdered man was a ubiquitous, harmless presence, shuffling around the downtown area of our County seat with rock and roll tunes blaring from his boombox.
LONG'S constant companion was an Indian named Adrian McWhinney, like Long, a man committed to strong drink. I remember once encountering the two of them in that little park off, I think, North Dora, not far from the Held-Poage Library. They were both bopping around the park to Larry's tunes, absolutely transported, the only two people in the world. It was a touching sight, two outcasts managing to find a few minutes of joy in lives that hadn't seen much to celebrate.
McWHINNEY is still around. He looks pretty good for a hard drinker. He had to have been devastated when the two mopes robbed his pal Larry and threw him, still alive, off the Talmage Road Bridge. Two then-very young men were quickly arrested and packed off to prison. One was a fellow named Portlock, now 39, and the reason for the DA's opposition to his parole. The other killer was Eric Mehtlin, who'd be about the same age as Portlock, late thirties.
I MET MEHTLIN and his parents when he was a hyper-active little guy about ten. I wrote about the parents' struggle to keep Eric with them, at home, but social services didn't approve of them or their home and placed their son at Trinity School on the Westside of Ukiah which, by then, was an institution for much tougher, mostly older, delinquently-oriented boys and girls. Younger children were, to put it gently, preyed upon.
THE MEHTLINS were bulldozed by social services and, with the auto-collusion of a Superior Court judge, Eric, who, given his age and obvious little guy vulnerability, was placed at Trinity School when he belonged (1) with his parents, or (2) a foster home if his parents were truly defective.
NO SURPRISE that Eric emerged at the emancipatory age of 18 from the tender embrace of Mendocino County's helping professionals as a full sociopath, with zero regard for other people unto murdering them, as he helped do with Larry Long. I have no idea how he's doing in prison, and I disagree with the DA's automatic rejection of parole for men who do very bad things when they're still very young. I think parole should depend on how they do in prison, and the prison people, the people who see them every day, should decide when they get out. They know who's a menace and who's not. But Mendocino County certainly played a major role in making Eric Mehtlin into a killer.
LITTLE DOG SAYS, “State Senator Mikey McGuire? Scrappy little second sacker from Healdsburg? I don't think he's a dog guy, but he at least borrowed this kid and her dog for a photo op.”
BRUCE, YOU IDIOT
This is exactly what I meant by clueless! I didn't expect you to agree with the lawsuit, only that you have a clue about what it's for. Being taxed is not the reason for the lawsuit. I already signed on to taxes as a proponent of Heritage.
The county cheated -- that is the reason for the lawsuit. AI is not a general tax, requiring only a majority; it is a special tax, requiring a 2/3 super-majority. They are jiving us in hopes that nobody will notice and that people like you will not care about constitutional compliance.
You pulled out the standard mantra and didn't look further...perhaps your bias is the problem.
"Millions of tax-free dollars all these years and you want it untaxed on the claim the business is somehow different and the tax laws that apply to everyone else don't apply to you,"
1) We are not saying there should be no taxes for cannabis activity. We're saying it should follow the rules, especially constitutional rules, since they apply to everyone.
2) We do not claim cannabis businesses are "different" and therefore taxes don't apply. We're saying cannabis businesses are the same as every other business & taxes should follow the same rules.
3) We are saying every other tax has passed the 2/3 super-majority voter rule and cannabis taxes should have to do the same.
4) We are saying by the very definition of special taxes being specific -- fixing roads, mental health, fire and emergency medical services, specified by McCowen, Gjerde and Elliott -- that the intent is to pass a special tax that goes into the general fund and must win 66 2/3 of the vote.
5) We are saying come back with a cannabis tax law that applies to the cannabis community and is not in violation of the CA Constitution; only then is the victory yours.
6) There is nothing in the lawsuit that claims or even implies we should not pay our "fair share" of taxes, only that they should be applied constitutionally, equally and fairly. That means following the California Constitution on taxation requirements at the ballot.
Pebs Trippet, Elk
* * *
THE POT TAX COMPLAINT
Subject: Complaint for Declaratory Relief against the Mendocino County Marijuana Tax
Dear BCC friends and colleagues and Mendocino County officials,
A Complaint against Mendocino County has been filed in Mendocino Superior Court and served on the County. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit challenge the notion, declared by the Board of Supervisors, that the "Marijuana Tax" (Measure AI) was approved by the voters, despite having received less than 2/3 of the vote, constitutionally required for special taxes.
The Complaint is posted here:
Complaint for Declaratory Relief.pdf
(Case # SCUK-CVG 17-168711)
Under the California Constitution, Article XIIIC, all taxes are either general taxes or special taxes and require different percentages of the total vote. General taxes require a bare majority; special taxes require a super-majority, i.e., 66 2/3%.
Measure AI is a special tax. It proposed a county wide tax on legal medical and non-medical cannabis but failed to achieve 66 2/3% required for special taxes.
Plaintiffs ask the Court for Declarations:
1) that the tax increase was a special tax subject to Article XIIIC's super-majority vote requirement and was defeated by receiving less than 2/3 voter approval.
2) that such measures as AI and AJ, as a scheme to circumvent a super-majority requirement, are prohibited by the California Constitution.
Plaintiffs, Mendocino county residents and voters, include Michael Johnson, Pebbles Trippet, Paula Deeter, Terry Johnson, Ron Edwards, Ralf Laguna, Noel Manners.
Defendant is Mendocino County.
Attorney for Plaintiffs is Lawrence Rosen.
ANOTHER FIRST for Point Arena, and I'm raising a glass to Mendocino County's smallest town for their steadfast refusal to succumb to these healthy living busy bodies. According to the American Lung Association the Fog Eaters failed every category on a recent tobacco survey — no grade higher than an F. Every other town in the County showed a decrease in tobacco use. But, heck, PA was incorporated in the first place so residents could keep on drinking while the rest of America went dry, and they're still puffing and putting them down over there in all that fresh air straight off the Pacific. Long may Point Arena's livers and lungs hold up!
MICHAEL TENCA, 31, of Albion was driving his 2002 Toyota northbound on Highway 1 on Monday, Feb. 6 at about 7:30pm at an unsafe speed. He lost control of his vehicle and it overturned onto its roof, then collided with a power pole on the northest corner near the intersection of Andiron Road. Tenca was wearing his seatbelt. Alcohol was determined to be a factor in the collision and Mr. Tenca was arrested after being treated at Coast Hospital. (CHP Press Release.)
CATCH OF THE DAY, Febraary 7, 2017
Admire, Calvo, Dahl, Dodson
JOSHUA ADMIRE, Fort Bragg/Ukiah. Controlled substance near prisoners, loaded firearm in public, probation revocation.
DAVID CALVO, Ukiah. Domestic battery.
ANTHONY DAHL, Mendocino. Domestic assault, assault with deadly weapon not a gun, false imprisonment.
TRACY DODSON, Fort Bragg. Unauthorized entry, court order violation.
Donahe, Elliott, Galindo
MICHAEL DONAHE, Ukiah. Probation revocation. (Frequent flyer.)
ROBERT ELLIOTT, Ukiah. Drunk in public.
THOMAS GALINDO, Santa Rosa. Drunk in public, probation revocation.
Maynard, Matthias, Mejia
ANDREW MAYNARD, Fort Bragg. Drunk in public. (Frequent flyer.)
KENNETH MATTHIAS, Laytonville. Failure to appear, probation revocation.
VICKIE MEJIA, Fort Bragg. Under influence, probation revocation.
ELIZABETH WARREN TO DEMOCRATS: Only an 'Opposition Party' Can Defeat Trump.
Crisis didn't just begin with Trump, says Massachusetts senator, "because for years and years and years, Washington has worked just great for the rich and the powerful, but far too often, it hasn’t worked for anyone else"
Speaking to members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus on Saturday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) delivered a searing critique by telling her fellow Democrats that the party should not let themselves "off the hook" when it comes to explaining horrific reality of President Donald J. Trump.
In order to defeat Trump and take on the Republicans, she said, Democrats can no longer play it safe or cozy up to powerful interests at the expense of everyday concerns and the needs of working people. "Our moment of crisis didn’t begin with the election of Donald Trump," Warren told CPC members gathered at their annual retreat in Baltimore, Maryland. "We were already in crisis. We were already in crisis because for years and years and years, Washington has worked just great for the rich and the powerful, but far too often, it hasn’t worked for anyone else."
Though one of Trump's most aggressive critics anywhere, Warren said that she recognizes, and understands, why many hard-hit and working-class voters who once voted Democratic cast their ballot last year for a billionaire reality television star who vowed to shake up the system. "People don’t just wake up one day," she said, "and elect leaders like Donald Trump because 'Hey, everything is awesome, but what the hell, let's roll the dice and make life interesting.'"
As the Republicans pushed further and further to right in recent decades, Warren continued, it must be admitted that Democrats "have been unwilling to get out there and fight.” But those days, Warren said, must now be over. "We are not the minority party," declared Warren. "We are the opposition party."
She concluded: "We will resist every single effort to make America into a small and spiteful place. We will resist every injustice. We will resist every effort to divide us. We will resist every effort to disgrace our Constitution. We will resist every single step toward the takeover of our government by billionaires, bankers and bigots."
THE LIBRARY OF CYBERSPACE
by Louis S. Bedrock
In “The Library of Babel” Jorge Luis Borges imagines a library that contains everything that can be expressed in writing, in every possible language.
Despite the inability of anyone to find anything that makes sense in any volume of the Library, the narrator of the story rejects the idea that the books within the Library are meaningless. There is no combination of letters, he argues, that does not hold a secret significance in some language or code in the Universe.
Rereading the story recently—and I have simplified and denigrated it in my summary, I thought of the internet. Of course, Borges wrote his story before the internet was a gleam in its father’s eye, but the library in his story is a good metaphor for the internet. In both cases, the problem is too much information.
No matter how deranged your opinion is, you can find a blog to support your views on the internet. Do you think slavery was a good idea? Hundreds of online sources will support you. Was the Holocaust just a Zionist plot and Auschwitz a resort? Again, you will find confirmation on the web. Are government regulations of industry a communist plot to destroy American initiative? Of course they are. The internet told me so.
Folksinger Tom Paxton once wrote a song called “I Read It In The Daily News”.
Civil rights leaders are a pain in the neck
Can't hold a candle to Chang Kai Shek
How do I know? I read it in the Daily News
Ban the bombers are afraid of a fight
Peace hurts business and that ain't right
How do I know? I read it in the Daily News
Daily News, daily blues
Pick up a copy any time you choose
Seven little pennies in the newsboy's hand
And you ride right along to never, never land
If Paxton were still composing today, he’d write a similar song about the internet.
* * *
Reading involves two skills: decoding and comprehension. Decoding is simply the interpretation of written symbols. Comprehension is understanding what is written. There are three levels of comprehension: literal, inferential, and critical.
Consider this apparently simple poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay:
Your father is dead.
From his old coats
I'll make you little jackets;
I'll make you little trousers
From his old pants.
There'll be in his pockets
Things he used to put there,
Keys and pennies
Covered with tobacco;
Dan shall have the pennies
To save in his bank;
Anne shall have the keys
To make a pretty noise with.
Life must go on,
And the dead be forgotten;
Life must go on,
Though good men die;
Anne, eat your breakfast;
Dan, take your medicine;
Life must go on;
I forget just why.
Questions to evaluate literal comprehension would include “Who died?”, “Who will get the keys?”, or “With what were the keys and pennies covered?”
To assess inferential or interpretive comprehension, one might ask “What is the emotional tone of the poem?”, “Is the family wealthy or poor?”, “Who is speaking and to whom?” and “In what line does the narrator show her grief?”
Critical question are more difficult to answer and to assess. “Is this poem good or bad?” “Is it good or excellent?” “How effectively does Millay communicate the emotion and drama of the situation?”
Critical evaluation involves judgement, the ability to compare and rank. With informative articles, one must assess the validity of sources and statistics, and the logic of a writer’s (or blogger’s) conclusions. When evaluating literature, one must rely on one’s own experience and on the comments of respected critics. With information, one has to choose which sources are credible.
In evaluating articles on vaccinations or climate change, it helps if one knows who the writer is, her reputation, and what her goals are. A writer’s sources should be calibrated with other, reliable sources. Do other sources corroborate or contradict his data?
It also helps to be familiar with propaganda techniques and emotion stirring devices like post hoc ergo propter hoc (After this, therefore because of this), repeated statement, hasty generalization, one valued thinking, and false dilemma (Either, or).
Here are a couple of helpful links:
* * *
A few weeks ago, a climate change denialist commenter in the AVA cited an on-line publication called NoTricksZone. This blog, published by a civil engineer, offers a scientific facade, but on closer examination reveals itself to be a fraud and is full of tricks as well as the usual easily refutable denialist claims. Let’s review five NoTricksZone claims—I got bored with their nonsense pretty quickly.
1. If manmade global warming is real, how can you explain periods in the past that experienced global warming?
2. There’s no consensus.
3. It’s cooling.
4. Manmade global warming can’t be real because the world is too big for us to change the temperature.
5. CO2 that goes into the atmosphere does not stay there, but is continuously recycled by terrestrial plant life and earth’s oceans.
The response to these myths:
1. Greenhouse gasses – mainly CO2, but also methane – were involved in most of the climate changes in Earth’s past. When they were reduced, the global climate became colder. When they were increased, the global climate became warmer. When CO2 levels jumped rapidly, the global warming that resulted was highly disruptive and sometimes caused mass extinctions. Humans today are emitting prodigious quantities of CO2, at a rate faster than even the most destructive climate changes in earth's past.
2. Authors of seven climate consensus studies — including Naomi Oreskes, Peter Doran, William Anderegg, Bart Verheggen, Ed Maibach, J. Stuart Carlton, and John Cook — co-authored a paper that should settle this question once and for all. The two key conclusions from the paper are:
a) Depending on exactly how you measure the expert consensus, it’s somewhere between 90% and 100% that agree humans are responsible for climate change, with most of our studies finding 97% consensus among publishing climate scientists.
b) The greater the climate expertise among those surveyed, the higher the consensus on human-caused global warming.
3. The last decade 2000-2009 was the hottest on record. Here is the ranking of the years since 2009.
(Answers provided by https://www.skepticalscience.com/argument.php)
I haven’t provided answers for questions 4 and 5. I invite you the reader to try. As an incentive, I will pay for a one year subscription (or renewal) to the electronic version of the AVA for the first readers who provide convincing responses to questions four and five. Answers should manifest critical reading skills.
You may not use only https://www.skepticalscience.com/argument.php
That means two subscriptions.
I, of course, will be the sole judge.
THE FACT IS that Trump and his entourage, fabulously rich as they are, do not belong to the multinational corporate and financial elite that has developed and established dominance during the past quarter of a century. Fortunes of Trump and his associates reach 3-4 billion dollars. On the scale of the American and international capitalism of the beginning of the XXI century, these are not big fortunes. Multinational companies control capitals that are ten or more times greater, often managing hundreds of billions of dollars.
Donald Trump is quite a typical representative of medium-size businesses, oriented on the local market and dedicated to the development of real sector.
This part of bourgeoisie quite naturally rebelled against the transnational corporations, which, together with the largest banks, have used its dominant position in Washington in the last quarter-century to change the rules in their favor and to reallocate resources, undermining not only the workers and the middle class, but also a significant part of entrepreneurs. The average business, which rebelled against transnational oligarchies, was forced to look for allies. In turn, the lower classes of society, who for decades suffered from neoliberal policies, enthusiastically joined the revolt. Such alliance will not last for too long, but it is not accidental. The development of industry, internal market, and social policy that strengthens the position of the workers, and gives them confidence is needed in order to restore the workers’ movement, to allow it to gain momentum. In short, we need protectionism.
— Boris Kagarlitsky
WINTER WORKERS-CAN WE HELP YOU?
Hello all! Do you need some extra assistance with the winter load around your home? We can help! Our names are Derek and Feather, we are two young traveling workers living on the Mendo Coast. Weve been working here the past few months for many wonderful people in the community in a far range of homesteading jobs. We're available to help you with your gardening, pruning, bed prepping, fire wood cutting and hauling, building, fixing, landscaping, irrigation and plumbing and so much more. Were available all days of the week on a first come-first serve basis. We arrive promptly in our own vehicle ready to work with you! We charge $15 pr person pr hour and come with great references from your neighbors in the community! If you would like some help call us 707-734-3475 or email me (which is strangly easier for me) at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you! Derek & Feather
ON LINE COMMENT OF THE DAY
Home builders don’t actually build. They hire subcontractors who contract out to building crews who happen to be cheap disposable migrant labor of mixed legal status. 84 lumber needs cheap homes. They need low mortgage rates. They need sprawl. They need the crews to get their lumber from a place they feel has their back. They want the builders to know that they know how important cheap, disposable labor is to the total operation, to the business of putting people into big oversized homes. They know the suburban Ponzi scam would just collapse without low paid no benefit framing crews. Everyone from realtor associations to developers are against worksite enforcement and curbs on throw away migrant labor pools.
"PROFESSOR" IRWIN COREY, COMIC MASTER OF INTELLECTUAL DOUBLESPEAK, DIES AT 102
"Professor" Irwin Corey, who forged a long career in show business using a talent for "intellectual doublespeak" - comic stream-of-consciousness riffs that went absolutely nowhere - has died. He was 102.
A jumbled mix of Albert Einstein and Charlie Chaplin who billed himself as "The World's Foremost Authority" on just about anything, Corey died Monday at his home in Manhattan, his son, Richard, told the Washington Post.
Outfitted in a black frock and string tie and looking like a dowdy, wild-haired professor, the Brooklyn native was a familiar presence on variety shows and talk shows in the 1960s and '70s, appearing on programs hosted by the likes of Jackie Gleason, Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Joey Bishop, Mike Douglas, Johnny Carson and later David Letterman. Lenny Bruce was a big fan.
The New York Times asked him about the meaning of life in a 2008 interview, and he answered as only he could:
"One of the things that you've got to understand is that we've got to develop a continuity in order to relate to exacerbate those whose curiosity has not been defended," he said, "yet the information given can no longer be used as allegoric because the defendant does not use the evidence which can be substantiated by."
Then he asked, "What was the question?"
Corey was born on July 29, 1914. His parents were so destitute, they placed him and his five siblings in the Hebrew Orphan Asylum of New York. He performed in nightclubs around New York, was a groundbreaker in the 1930s in improvisational comedy and performed as one of the "New Faces of 1943" on Broadway.
CALIFORNIANS ARE PAYING BILLIONS FOR POWER THEY DON'T NEED
We're using less electricity. Some power plants have even shut down. So why do state officials keep approving new ones?
by Ivan Penn & Ryan Menezes
The bucolic orchards of Sutter County north of Sacramento had never seen anything like it: a visiting governor and a media swarm — all to christen the first major natural gas power plant in California in more than a decade.
At its 2001 launch, the Sutter Energy Center was hailed as the nation’s cleanest power plant. It generated electricity while using less water and natural gas than older designs.
A year ago, however, the $300-million plant closed indefinitely, just 15 years into an expected 30- to 40-year lifespan. The power it produces is no longer needed — in large part because state regulators approved the construction of a plant just 40 miles away in Colusa that opened in 2010.
Two other large and efficient power plants in California also are facing closure decades ahead of schedule. Like Sutter, there is little need for their electricity.
California has a big — and growing — glut of power, an investigation by the Los Angeles Times has found. The state’s power plants are on track to be able to produce at least 21% more electricity than it needs by 2020, based on official estimates. And that doesn’t even count the soaring production of electricity by rooftop solar panels that has added to the surplus.
To cover the expense of new plants whose power isn’t needed — Colusa, for example, has operated far below capacity since opening — Californians are paying a higher premium to switch on lights or turn on electric stoves. In recent years, the gap between what Californians pay versus the rest of the country has nearly doubled to about 50%.
This translates into a staggering bill. Although California uses 2.6% less electricity annually from the power grid now than in 2008, residential and business customers together pay $6.8 billion more for power than they did then. The added cost to customers will total many billions of dollars over the next two decades, because regulators have approved higher rates for years to come so utilities can recoup the expense of building and maintaining the new plants, transmission lines and related equipment, even if their power isn’t needed.
How this came about is a tale of what critics call misguided and inept decision-making by state utility regulators, who have ignored repeated warnings going back a decade about a looming power glut.
“In California, we’re blinding ourselves to the facts,” said Loretta Lynch, a former president of the California Public Utilities Commission, who along with consumer advocacy groups has fought to stop building plants. “We’re awash in power at a premium price.”
California regulators have for years allowed power companies to go on a building spree, vastly expanding the potential electricity supply in the state. Indeed, even as electricity demand has fallen since 2008, California’s new plants have boosted its capacity enough to power all of the homes in a city the size of Los Angeles — six times over. Additional plants approved by regulators will begin producing more electricity in the next few years.
The missteps of regulators have been compounded by the self-interest of California utilities, Lynch and other critics contend. Utilities are typically guaranteed a rate of return of about 10.5% for the cost of each new plant regardless of need. This creates a major incentive to keep construction going: Utilities can make more money building new plants than by buying and reselling readily available electricity from existing plants run by competitors.
Regulators acknowledge the state has too much power but say they are being prudent. The investment, they maintain, is needed in case of an emergency — like a power plant going down unexpectedly, a heat wave blanketing the region or a wildfire taking down part of the transmission network.
“We overbuilt the system because that was the way we provided that degree of reliability,” explained Michael Picker, president of the California Public Utilities Commission. “Redundancy is important to reliability.”
Some of the excess capacity, he noted, is in preparation for the retirement of older, inefficient power plants over the next several years. The state is building many new plants to try to meet California environmental standards requiring 50% clean energy by 2030, he said.
In addition, he said, some municipalities — such as the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power — want to maintain their own separate systems, which leads to inefficiencies and redundancies. “These are all issues that people are willing to pay for,” Picker said.
Critics agree that some excess capacity is needed. And, in fact, state regulations require a 15% cushion. California surpasses that mark and is on pace to exceed it by 6 percentage points in the next three years, according to the Western Electricity Coordinating Council, which tracks capacity and reliability. In the past, the group has estimated the surplus would be even higher.
Even the 15% goal is “pretty rich,” said Robert McCullough of Oregon-based McCullough Research, who has studied California’s excess electric capacity for both utilities and regulators. “Traditionally, 10% is just fine. Below 7% is white knuckle. We are a long way from white-knuckle time” in California.
Contrary to Picker’s assertion, critics say, customers aren’t aware that too much capacity means higher rates. “The winners are the energy companies,” Lynch said. “The losers are businesses and families.”
The over-abundance of electricity can be traced to poorly designed deregulation of the industry, which set the stage for blackouts during the energy crisis of 2000-2001.
Lawmakers opened the state’s power business to competition in 1998, so individual utilities would no longer enjoy a monopoly on producing and selling electricity. The goal was to keep prices lower while ensuring adequate supply. Utilities and their customers were allowed to buy electricity from new, unregulated operators called independent power producers.
The law created a new exchange where electricity could be bought and sold, like other commodities such as oil or wheat.
Everyone would benefit. Or so the thinking went.
In reality, instead of lowering electricity costs and spurring innovation, market manipulation by Enron Corp. and other energy traders helped send electricity prices soaring.
That put utilities in a bind, because they had sold virtually all their natural gas plants. No longer able to produce as much of their own electricity, they ran up huge debts buying power that customers needed. Blackouts spread across the state.
State leaders, regulators and the utilities vowed never to be in that position again, prompting an all-out push to build more plants, both utility-owned and independent.
“They were not going to allow another energy crisis due to a lack of generation,” said Alex Makler, a senior vice president of Calpine, the independent power producer that owns the Sutter Energy plant not far from Sacramento.
But the landscape was starting to change. By the time new plants began generating electricity, usage had begun a decline, in part because of the economic slowdown caused by the recession but also because of greater energy efficiency.
The state went from having too little to having way too much power.
“California has this tradition of astonishingly bad decisions,” said McCullough, the energy consultant. “They build and charge the ratepayers. There’s nothing dishonest about it. There’s nothing complicated. It’s just bad planning.”
The saga of two plants — Sutter Energy and Colusa — helps explain in a microcosm how California came to have too much energy, and is paying a high price for it.
Sutter was built in 2001 by Houston-based Calpine, which owns 81 power plants in 18 states.
Independents like Calpine don’t have a captive audience of residential customers like regulated utilities do. Instead, they sell their electricity under contract or into the electricity market, and make money only if they can find customers for their power.
Sutter had the capacity to produce enough electricity to power roughly 400,000 homes. Calpine operated Sutter at an average of 50% of capacity in its early years — enough to make a profit.
But then Pacific Gas & Electric Co., a regulated, investor-owned utility, came along with a proposal to build Colusa.
It was not long after a statewide heat wave, and PG&E argued in its 2007 request seeking PUC approval that it needed the ability to generate more power. Colusa — a plant almost identical in size and technology to Sutter — was the only large-scale project that could be finished quickly, PG&E said.
More than a half-dozen opponents, including representatives of independent power plants, a municipal utilities group and consumer advocates filed objections questioning the utility company. Wasn’t there a more economical alternative? Did California need the plant at all?
They expressed concern that Colusa could be very expensive long-term for customers if it turned out that its power wasn’t needed.
That’s because public utilities such as PG&E operate on a different model.
If electricity sales don’t cover the operating and construction costs of an independent power plant, it can’t continue to run for long. And if the independent plant closes, the owner — and not ratepayers — bears the burden of the cost.
In contrast, publicly regulated utilities such as PG&E operate under more accommodating rules. Most of their revenue comes from electric rates approved by regulators that are set at a level to guarantee the utility recovers all costs for operating the electric system as well as the cost of building or buying a power plant — plus their guaranteed profit.
Protesters argued Colusa was unnecessary. The state’s excess production capacity by 2010, the year Colusa was slated to come online, was projected to be almost 25% — 10 percentage points higher than state regulatory requirements.
The looming oversupply, they asserted, meant that consumers would get stuck with much of the bill for Colusa no matter how little customers needed its electricity.
And the bill would be steep. Colusa would cost PG&E $673 million to build. To be paid off, the plant will have to operate until 2040. Over its lifetime, regulators calculated that PG&E will be allowed to charge more than $700 million to its customers to cover not just the construction cost but its operating costs and its profit.
The urgent push by PG&E “seems unwarranted and inappropriate, and potentially costly to ratepayers,” wrote Daniel Douglass, a lawyer for industry groups that represent independent power producers.
The California Municipal Utilities Assn. — whose members buy power from public utilities and then distribute that power to their customers — also complained in a filing that PG&E’s application appeared to avoid the issue of how Colusa’s cost would be shared if it ultimately sat idle. PG&E’s “application is confusing and contradicting as to whether or not PG&E proposes to have the issue of stranded cost recovery addressed,” wrote Scott Blaising, a lawyer representing the association. (“Stranded cost” is industry jargon for investment in an unneeded plant.)
The arguments over Colusa echoed warnings that had been made for years by Lynch, the former PUC commissioner.
A pro-consumer lawyer appointed PUC president in 2000 by Gov. Gray Davis, Lynch consistently argued as early as 2003 against building more power plants.
“I was like, ‘What the hell are we doing?’” recalled Lynch.
She often butted heads with other commissioners and utilities who pushed for more plants and more reserves. Midway though her term, the governor replaced her as president — with a former utility company executive.
One key battle was fought over how much reserve capacity was needed to guard against blackouts. Lynch sought to limit excess capacity to 9% of the state’s electricity needs. But in January 2004, over her objections, the PUC approved a gradual increase to 15% by 2008.
“We’ve created an extraordinarily complex system that gives you a carrot at every turn,” Lynch said. “I’m a harsh critic because this is intentionally complex to make money on the ratepayer’s back.”
With Lynch no longer on the PUC, the commissioners voted 5-0 in June 2008 to let PG&E build Colusa. The rationale: The plant was needed, notwithstanding arguments that there was a surplus of electricity being produced in the market.
PG&E began churning out power at Colusa in 2010. For the nearby Sutter plant, that marked the beginning of the end as its electricity sales plummeted.
In the years that followed, Sutter’s production slumped to about a quarter of its capacity, or just half the rate it had operated previously.
Calpine, Sutter’s owner, tried to drum up new business for the troubled plant, reaching out to shareholder-owned utilities such as PG&E and other potential buyers. Calpine even proposed spending $100 million to increase plant efficiency and output, according to a letter the company sent to the PUC in February 2012.
PG&E rejected the offer, Calpine said, “notwithstanding that Sutter may have been able to provide a lower cost.”
Asked for comment, PG&E said, “PG&E is dedicated to meeting the state’s clean energy goals in cost-effective ways for our customers. We use competitive bidding and negotiations to keep the cost and risk for our customers as low as possible.” It declined to comment further about its decision to build Colusa or on its discussions with Calpine.
Without new contracts and with energy use overall on the decline, Calpine had little choice but to close Sutter.
During a 2012 hearing about Sutter’s distress, one PUC commissioner, Mike Florio, acknowledged that the plant’s troubles were “just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.” He added, “Put simply, for the foreseeable future, we have more power plants than we need.”
Colusa, meanwhile, has operated at well below its generating capacity — just 47% in its first five years — much as its critics cautioned when PG&E sought approval to build it.
Sutter isn’t alone. Other natural gas plants once heralded as the saviors of California’s energy troubles have found themselves victims of the power glut. Independent power producers have announced plans to sell or close the 14-year-old Moss Landing power plant at Monterey Bay and the 13-year-old La Paloma facility in Kern County.
Robert Flexon, chief executive of independent power producer Dynegy Inc., which owns Moss Landing, said California energy policy makes it difficult for normal market competition. Independent plants are closing early, he said, because regulators favor utility companies over other power producers.
“It’s not a game we can win,” Flexon said.
Since 2008 alone — when consumption began falling — about 30 new power plants approved by California regulators have started producing electricity. These plants account for the vast majority of the 17% increase in the potential electricity supply in the state during that period.
Hundreds of other small power plants, with production capacities too low to require the same level of review by state regulators, have opened as well.
Most of the big new plants that regulators approved also operate at below 50% of their generating capacity.
So that California utilities can foot the bill for these plants, the amount they are allowed by regulators to charge ratepayers has increased to $40 billion annually from $33.5 billion, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. This has tacked on an additional $60 a year to the average residential power bill, adjusted for inflation.
Another way of looking at the impact on consumers: The average cost of electricity in the state is now 15.42 cents a kilowatt hour versus 10.41 cents for users in the rest of the U.S. The rate in California, adjusted for inflation, has increased 12% since 2008, while prices have declined nearly 3% elsewhere in the country.
California utilities are “constantly crying wolf that we’re always short of power and have all this need,” said Bill Powers, a San Diego-based engineer and consumer advocate who has filed repeated objections with regulators to try to stop the approval of new plants. They are needlessly trying to attain a level of reliability that is a worst-case “act of God standard,” he said.
Even with the growing glut of electricity, consumer critics have found that it is difficult to block the PUC from approving new ones.
In 2010, regulators considered a request by PG&E to build a $1.15-billion power plant in Contra Costa County east of San Francisco, over objections that there wasn’t sufficient demand for its power. One skeptic was PUC commissioner Dian Grueneich. She warned that the plant wasn’t needed and its construction would lead to higher electricity rates for consumers — on top of the 28% increase the PUC had allowed for PG&E over the previous five years.
The PUC was caught in a “time warp,” she argued, in approving new plants as electricity use fell. “Our obligation is to ensure that our decisions have a legitimate factual basis and that ratepayers’ interest are protected.”
Her protests were ignored. By a 4-to-1 vote, with Grueneich the lone dissenter, the commissioners approved the building of the plant.
Consumer advocates then went to court to stop the project, resulting in a rare victory against the PUC. In February 2014, the California Court of Appeals overturned the commission, ruling there was no evidence the plant was needed.
Recent efforts to get courts to block several other PUC-approved plants have failed, however, so the projects are moving forward.
(The LA Times)
CALIFORNIA OIL LOBBY TOPS SPENDING IN 2015-16 SESSION WITH $36.1 MILLION
by Dan Bacher
In spite of California's reputation as a "green leader, Big Oil is the largest corporate lobby in the state and exerts enormous influence over the Governor's Office, Legislature and regulatory agencies.
As usual, the California Oil Lobby was the biggest spender in the 2015-16 legislative session, spending an amazing $36.1 million as of December 31, 2016.
The spending amounts to $1.5 million per month — nearly $50,000 per day — over the last two years. The $36.1 million surpassed the $34 million spent in the prior session, according to an American Lung Association report. “That’s enough money to buy 103,000 goats,” reported Stop Fooling California, stopfoolingca.org.
The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) was the top overall oil industry spender during the 2015-16 session, spending $18.7 million. As is normally the case, WSPA ranked #1 among all lobbying spenders this session.
Chevron, the second overall oil industry spender, spent $7 million in the 2015-16 session. It spent $3 million in 2016, sixth among all lobbyists in the current session.
In the seventh quarter alone, WSPA dumped $2.6 million into lobbying legislators and state officials while billionaire Tom Steyer's Next Generation Climate Action spent an unprecedented $7.3 million, almost 3 times the oil industry group’s expenses.
The spending by Steyer’s group helped propel the passage of Senate Bill 32, legislation that reduces greenhouse gas level to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, in spite of strong opposition by the oil industry.
Since the 2007-08 Session, the oil industry has spent $133 million in lobbying in California.
To read the complete report, go to: http://www.lung.org/local-content/california/documents/Oil-Industry-Lobbying-2016-update-4_1-31-17.pdf
WSPA: Sacramento's most powerful corporate lobbying group
Although the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) is the largest and most powerful corporate lobbying group in the West and California, its enormous influence appears to be one of our state’s best-kept secrets. It has spent more than other lobbying organization in Sacramento in recent years to exert control over the Governor’s Office, regulatory agencies and the State Legislature.
Big Oil, along with Big Ag, Big Pharma, Big Timber and other corporate interests, dominate politics in California, as well as in Washington, D.C., as evidenced by President's Donald Trump’s nomination of EXXON CEO Rex Tilleson as Secretary of State, Scott Pruitt as EPA Administrator, and other oil and energy corporation shills to his cabinet. The appointment of oil industry officials and their allies to California regulatory panels has been standard practice in California for many years.
The Western States Petroleum Association is a “non-profit trade association” that represents companies that account for the bulk of petroleum exploration, production, refining, transportation and marketing in the five western states of California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, and Nevada.
WSPA’s membership includes a who’s who oil, energy and pipeline corporations including Aera Energy LLC, Chevron, Californian Resources Corporation (formerly Occidental Petroleum), ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Noble Energy, Inc., Phillips 66, Plains All American, Inc. Shell Oil Products US, Tesoro Refining and Marketing and Valero.
From January 1, 2009 to November 8, 2016 alone, the oil industry spent $112,371,214 on lobbying expenses in California, according to a report, “The Chevron Way: Polluting California and Degrading Democracy.” The International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) Sydney Office produced the report, in collaboration with a coalition of conservation, consumer and environmental justice groups.
The Western States Petroleum Association led the oil industry lobbying expenses with $49,491,104 during this period, followed by Chevron with $24,035,901 and Phillips 66 with $4,821,144. For more information, go to: http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/12/02/wspa-the-wests-most-powerful-corporate-lobbying-group/
The five way Big Oil exerts its influence
WSPA and Big Oil use their money and power in 5 ways: through (1) lobbying; (2) campaign spending; (3) getting appointed to positions on and influencing regulatory panels; (4) creating Astroturf groups: and (5) working in collaboration with media.
Big Oil and other corporate advocates have dominated appointments to Commissions and regulatory panels in California under Governors Gray Davis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown, ranging from the Department of Conservation, to the California Public Utilities Commission, to the California Energy Commission, to the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force.
In a classic case of the “fox guarding the hen house, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, President of the Western States Petroleum Association, chaired the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Forces to create faux “marine protected areas” in Southern California from 2009 to 2012 at the same the oil industry was fracking South Coast ocean waters. Reheis-Boyd, appointed by Schwarzenegger, also served on the task forces for the Central Coast, North Central Coast, and North Coast from 2004 to 2012.
It gets worse. Reheis-Boyd’s husband, James D. Boyd, first appointed by Governor Davis, sat on on the California Energy Commission from 2002 to 2012, including serving as Vice-Chair of the Commission from 2/2007 to 1/2012.
In September 2016, the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) opened an investigation into the California Democratic Party in response to a report by a prominent consumer group, Consumer Watchdog, claiming that the party acted as a “laundry machine” to funnel donations from oil, energy and utility companies to Brown’s 2014 election campaign. For more information, go to: http://redgreenandblue.org/2016/09/29/jerry-browns-campaign-launder-dirty-money-big-oil/
In the "Brown's Dirty Hands" report, Consumer Watchdog revealed that that twenty-six energy companies including the state’s three major investor-owned utilities, Occidental, Chevron, and NRG—all with business before the state—donated $9.8 million to Jerry Brown’s campaigns, causes, and initiatives, and to the California Democratic Party since he ran for Governor for his third term. Donations were often made within days or weeks of winning favors. The three major investor-owned utilities alone contributed nearly $6 million
"Occidental’s attorney, former Governor Gray Davis, successfully pressured Brown to fire two oil and gas regulators who wouldn’t grant oil waste injection permits without proof that aquifers would not be contaminated," according to the group. "Two months later, when Brown’s new interim oil and gas supervisor granted Occidental a permit without an environmental review, Occidental contributed $250,000 to Prop 30, Brown’s ballot measure to raise taxes, then another $100,000 two weeks later to his favored Oakland Military Institute. Seven months later, Occidental made a second $250,000 donation to Prop 30."
You can download "Brown's Dirty Hands" at: www.consumerwatchdog.org/dirtyhands
More recently on February 6, twelve public interest groups, led by Consumer Watchdog and Food & Water Watch, unveiled a comprehensive report card on the Brown Administration’s environmental record revealing that he falls short in six out of seven key areas, including fossil fuel generated electricity, oil drilling, and coastal protection. Read the report “How Green Is Jerry Brown?” at: www.consumerwatchdog.org/isbrowngreen
There is no doubt that Big Oil and other corporate interests dominate politics in California and Washington — and that we must relentlessly work to get Big Oil out of politics by supporting efforts like the Move to Amend, movetoamend.org, and the California Clean Money Campaign, www.caclean.org.